Participatory budgeting in Arezzo enabled citizens to participate in allocating local resources for green areas and public works, aiming to improve citizens' knowledge of local administration and promote a sense of community and shared responsibility.
Problems and Purpose
The purpose of the event which took place in Arezzo was to arouse citizens' interest in the district life and improve the knowledge of local administration, with the global aim of consolidating the link between citizens & institutions and between citizens themselves (creating a feeling of community and a shared awareness of responsibility). The project of participatory budgeting in itself aimed at three points: to make budgeting more effective in tackling collective problems; to make policy decisions more transparent; and to bring political decisions closer to citizens.
Three "social districts" within three city districts (Giotto, Fiorentina and Palazzo del Pero) were chosen to implement a participatory process aimed at developing budget priorities. The "social districts" were chosen because of their heterogeneous urban fabric and their need of policy measures to improve their situations. Issues are consequently complex enough (due to the diversity of interests) to justify the use of a participative process.
The deliberation itself concerned two main themes: green areas & public works; in these two areas, participants were asked to determine priorities, based on a budget of 650,000 euros (7% of the total city budget in these two policy areas).
Background History and Context
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Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The participatory budgeting was run by a private firm, SocioLab.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The participative process in Arezzo aimed at involving most of the people living within the three social districts. To this purpose, it tried to engage as many people as possible, including those typically underrepresented, such as children and non-nationals. Consequently, after the first stage of broadly disseminated information, 1,500 letters were sent to residents of the areas (chosen according to their representativeness), inviting them to the meetings. The project also invited people according to activities they were involved in (associations, touristic/business activities, etc.). Other participants were auto-selected—many received a phone call inviting them to come.
An attempt to invite non-national minorities (who represent 11% of the districts’ population, whereas the national average is 7%) through their associations was hardly successful—only 3 representatives actually showed up. Also, to help women come, a baby-sitting service was available. In the district of Fiorentina, this service in fact did enable female participation, as compared to 30% in the other areas where the service was not offered.
However, the intention to have a wide variety of citizens failed: most of the participants were men over 50, which is not socially representative of the population of the districts.
Two phases must be distinguished: the participative process proper and the vote, where more people came. The total of participants in the two stages represented about 5% of the total residents’ in the concerned areas.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative is an example of participatory budgeting, a method of democratic innovation broadly described as "a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources." There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting including increased civic and democratic education; increased government transparency; and an increased opportunity for participation by historically marginalized populations.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The participative project lasted 7 months, from March to September 2009. It was designed in 3 stages. First, in March, general information concerning the process was broadly disseminated by means of fliers including the program of activities, gadgets (pencils with the project's logo), a TV spot, a website illustrating the process and the calendar of the events, the monthly municipal magazine, and a booklet explaining the functioning of the municipal budget (2,000 copies).
The second stage of 'territorial animation' took place from March to May; it was more selective than the first stage: participants were selected and then received in-depth information about the process. It included meetings with associations (with particular attention given to immigrants' associations), an info-bus, letters and phone-calls, a Facebook page, and seminar of facilitator's training. At the end of this phase, a “presentation meeting” was organized for each of the three districts, with 60 participants each.
The last stage, from June to September, concerned the participatory budgeting proper: 147 persons registered for three “deliberative talk evenings”: 54 from the Giotto district, 40 from Palazzo del pero, and 53 from Fiorentina.
Meetings occurred in social centres and parishes of the districts' offices. Participants discussed in five small groups of 10-12 persons, each with the support of a facilitator. First, the groups had to identify the needs of the areas. Then, they discussed proposals on priority investments. The use of maps assisted the discussions. Experts were also available to answer technical questions and address any doubts. At the end, each group chose a range of project priorities for each district concerning the two themes of public works and green areas.
The process was monitored by a Committee guaranteeing neutrality and impartiality, composed of an attorney, several public officials, and five elected participants. Activities were all videotaped and photographed.
During the summer, suggestions were evaluated by experts in respect to their feasibility. Before the final vote of the projects by the citizens, an informative evening was organized by the city experts to show that the propositions were feasible.
At the end, a vote was organized in September to choose between the different proposals. Participants—but also other inhabitants of the districts—were called to vote. 363 citizens actually voted.
After the vote, the five elected members of the commission of accompaniment were invited to follow the progress and a walk in the districts—involving any citizen interested—was organized to see the projects realized.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The participatory process finished with a fourth stage which was the implementation of the chosen priority investments. Eight projects, for a total cost of 630,000 euros, were carried out. This stage concluded with a walk through the districts which enabled citizens to perceive the implementation of the projects they voted for.
Participants did appreciate the event: 94% of them reported they would participate again in a similar project; 80% found that the chosen projects respected the will of the district's demands; 87% of the participants thought that the process helped them strengthen their own voices; and 76% thought that the administration better understands citizens' priorities. The objectives of reinforcing trust and knowledge of local administration thus appear to have been achieved.
Moreover, neutrality and impartiality have been successfully ensured thanks to the Guarantee Committee.
The participatory budget has been such a success that it was repeated in 2010.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Before the process proper, one of the main difficulties was to involve people in the initial assemblies. The problem was partially solved thanks to a stronger communication effort, including newspapers and spots on local television.
The method recommended by SocioLab and used during the meetings was able to guarantee the active participation of citizens: there was an absence of relevant tensions or critical remarks from the participants. Discussions went well in a respectful atmosphere. The assemblies to vote on the priorities were a great success, gathering more than the people who participated to the first two stages (60 participants went at the initial presentation meeting, 147 participants went to the deliberative meetings and 363 participants went to vote). Some even complained about the restriction of discussion to only two topics (green areas and public works).
The most important failure was the absence of young people, despite some efforts to attract them, especially through Facebook). Moreover, some participants (especially the older ones) had difficulty understanding the competences of each administrative entity, suggesting interventions which were not of local competence. The main complaint was expressed by older people blaming the fact that some were invited by phone calls and others were not.
The Tuscany Regional Participation Policy, Italy
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Final Report. http://www.consiglio.regione.toscana.it/partecipazione/documenti/RelazioniFinali-Progetti/Arezzo-RF-IoConto.pdf [DEAD LINK]
Regional Participatory Authority of Tuscany Website